Oradea is emerging as one of the most attractive startup hubs in Romania

Located in the North-West of Romania, Oradea has enjoyed a very positive development in recent years, being viewed as an attractive location both by individuals and companies. Banking on massive investments in public infrastructure undertaken in recent years, the city has managed to attract both private investments and tourists.

Oradea’s main public square, a good example of the city’s slogan: “Art Nouveau, Life Nouveau”.

Oradea’s continuous investment in improving the quality of life of its citizens and in public infrastructure, coupled with new programs and initiatives aimed at supporting the creation of new startups are setting the city to become one of the most attractive startup hubs in Romania. With a highly developed entrepreneurial culture due to its proximity to the border and various historic reasons, having excellent healthcare facilities and offering unique cultural experiences, Oradea’s future may reside in its rather “softer” skills, a combination of business development talent and wellbeing services, complementing the more techy nearby hubs of Cluj and Timișoara. 

In recent years, Oradea has become one of the favorite destinations for Romanian and foreign tourists, with the number of tourists exceeding for the first time the number of inhabitants in 2018. The city has a unique combination of attractions, such as the Art Nouveau-style historical center, recently refurbished to bring back the splendor of the past, the Nymphaea Aquapark, one of the largest and most modern in this region of Europe and the Băile Felix resort, one of the most popular destinations for spa tourism in the country. 

High quality of life and the safest city in Romania

Oradea is a “magnet city” not only as a holiday destination. A report published by the World Bank in 2017 shows that the city is increasingly attracting both tourists and new residents. Oradea is perceived as a city with a high quality of life and the World Bank experts estimate that the city’s population grows every year by 3,000 inhabitants. Coupled with the relatively lower cost of housing, these data rank Oradea in the top of the preferences for those planning to move. The city is attractive through its growing job offer, as well as generous areas of green spaces, easy traffic, well developed cycling infrastructure and the pedestrianization of public spaces. 

Main square Oradea. Photo: Larisa Birta

“The quality of life and jobs are first and foremost in our scoring. The people see Oradea as a city with a Western European touch, that has changed, modernized”, says Marcel Heroiu, urban development expert at the World Bank.

A survey published by the real estate platform Storia.ro also ranks Oradea as the safest city in Romania. In the study involving almost 100.000 participants across the country, Oradea received the highest score when it came to the safety offered to its inhabitants. The large-scale research conducted by Storia also looked at other aspects, such as: the general cost of living, access to public health institutions, the situation of public transport, the quality of the environment or the cleanliness and area of green spaces.

Moreover, Oradea has been included in the top safest European destinations based on the efficient management of the COVID-19 pandemic. The European Best Destinations Association recommends Oradea for „slow, stress-free tourism”. 

Efficient public administration and increased connectivity

The north-western city has also been acclaimed to have one of the most efficient and proactive local public administration in Romania. The investors who settled in Oradea are very pleased with the collaboration with the local authorities, based on transparency and active involvement. It is worth noting that, for example, the time for receiving a construction permit is by far the shortest in the country, as highlighted in the World Bank’s Doing Business 2017 study.

“The Centenary Bridge”, an EU-funded project.

In terms of connectivity, one of the greatest advantages for investors settling here is the rapid access to Central Europe’s highway and rail infrastructure. The city will also be directly connected to the Transylvania highway, making transport to and from Central and Western Europe, through Hungary, even easier. A belt road around the city is already taking on all heavy traffic and, as part of an alliance with three other major cities in Western Romania (Cluj-Napoca, Arad, Timișoara), a high-speed railway will be connecting the region. 

3 fully equipped industrial parks and a future startup incubator

The measures taken by the local administration for the development of industrial parks and startup incubators, combined with the high quality of life and urban infrastructure put Oradea on the map of the most attractive cities in the country for investment. 

Eurobusiness Oradea Industrial Park

Oradea has 3 fully equipped public industrial parks, with a total  area of ​​231,3 ha, which already house 97 companies, 2/3 of which are foreign, and a fourth park (6.5 ha) is currently under development. The 3 industrial parks have attracted investments of about 397 million euros, creating about 8580 new jobs by the end of 2019.

The sites provide interested investors different sizes of lots, already connected to the transport infrastructure and public utilities in the area. Other private industrial and logistics parks add to Oradea’s business infrastructure.

“What we have been trying to do is to attract companies that offer the jobs of the future, such as Braintronix, a company specialized in the production of AI robots. They want to do part of the R&D in Oradea and they are 100% determined to train new specialists here.”, said Alina Silaghi, Oradea Local Development Agency.

To continue and sustain growth, Oradea is focused on attracting more high value-added investments. The latest investors announced in the industrial parks are focused on innovative, cutting edge technology: production of robots (Braintronix), batteries / accumulators needed in the automotive and aeronautics industry (ATNOM). In order to further develop these high value-added sectors, the local administration is committed to continue the investments in urban quality of life and has a strategy for attracting and training IT specialists in the city, through a package of facilities and incentives, as part of the “Make IT în Oradea” program.

Braintronix, a company specialized in the production of AI robots, will do part of its R&D in Oradea

“Oradea is very welcoming and offers a lot to startups and to large companies. I am talking to people that I know from several large companies and encourage them to come to Oradea because they can get land where they can build a headquarters, close to the city and also close to the new highway that will connect Oradea to the rest of Europe, through Budapest.”, said George Haber, investor and board member of Braintronix.

Besides the industrial parks, the City Hall of Oradea is investing in a startup incubator and a Center for Creative Industries, a project consisting in the rehabilitation of an unused building that will house 17 offices for future residents and an open work area of 30 workspaces.

“Oradea will have an infrastructure that will be made available to those who have innovative ideas, to those who work in the creative industries.”, says Deputy Mayor Mircea Mălan.

The university of tomorrow

Oradea’s university center has a tradition of almost 30 years and enrolls about 20,000 students. The municipality and the University of Oradea are working on the development of a unique university campus in the country, which will combine educational spaces with those of research, innovation, technological transfer, continuous training, accommodation and leisure.

The new campus will integrate the existing buildings and articulates the public spaces and the new buildings in order to create a series of green-labs, emphasizing innovation and creation.

The new Technological Transfer Centre will create a synergy between the academic environment and the local economic environment, as well as connections with the key actors in the areas of intelligent specialization at national and international level. The project proposes the construction of a new “smart-campus”, with a built area of approximately 827.5 square meters, on three levels. 

The building will be equipped with laboratories (for industrial robot lines, laser welding, numerical control processing centers and their programming etc.), research and innovation office spaces, conference spaces, as well as areas for courses, presentations and exhibitions.

Another major investment project of the Oradea City Hall aimed at supporting the development and competitiveness of higher education is the construction of two additional dormitories, with a total of 464 rooms. The area will also benefit from the expansion of the road and tram networks, as well as important investments in the utility infrastructure.

A program to boost the startup ecosystem, initiated by the municipality of Oradea and the tech business community

Make IT in Oradea is a joint initiative of City Hall of Oradea and the Oradea tech community to support the development of a competitive IT ecosystem. The program grants fiscal facilities (reducing the tax on buildings) for the premises on which the IT companies operate and supports the development of local start-ups, entrepreneurs and SMEs in the IT field. The startup incubation program will be launched over the next months and will have an annual budget of € 300,000, granted by the City Hall.

David Achim, Executive Director of the Make IT in Oradea Association

“The challenge of Oradea Tech Hub and Make IT în Oradea: to gather and create a sustained joint effort”, says David Achim, Executive Director of the Make IT in Oradea Association.

One of the key objectives of the project is to encourage young people to stay or return to Oradea and to connect them with the local opportunities. The program also offers a package for supporting highschool and college students, laying the foundations for the new generation of IT specialists. The support measures include scholarships, as well as meals and accommodation for students from nearby localities.

A vibrant startup scene

Talent, courage, a match between tech genius and a business mindset, powered by local and international investors make up Oradea’s growing startup scene. Founded in Oradea in 2016, TypingDNA is Oradea’s biggest startup success story and one of the most innovative startups in cybersecurity, offering a seamless experience of authentication based on typing biometrics. The AI-based technology works like this: after inputting an initial typing sample, the user’s unique patterns are learned and matched with each new authentication and password recovery attempt. Based on keystroke dynamics, each user is assigned a typing “DNA”, enabling one of the safest, user-friendly and non-intrusive authentication methods.

TypingDNA, Oradea’s biggest startup success story

In 2018, the company moved its headquarters to New York and received a round of seed financing of $1,5 million from GapMinder Ventures. The startup raised another $7 million Series A round led by Gradient Ventures, Google’s AI-focused venture fund late 2019 and has opened new positions in both Oradea and New York.

Another key contributor to the development of the tech scene in Oradea is Mobiversal, a full-service app-building agency founded in 2011. The company has a portfolio of over 60 international clients and has successfully launched its own product, the appointment scheduling app Appointfix. 

Looking at the industries in which these startups are active, the innovative solutions developed in Oradea include cybersecurity (East-Tec, TypingDNA), appointment scheduling (Appointfix and Fieldvibe), project management (Paymo), graphic design software (Bannersnack and Flipsnack),  e-mail and real-time text marketing (Relevon), personal shopping assistance (Cartloop), parking (Keyticket), industry 4.0 solutions (Octavic) and biotech (Axosuits – medical exoskeletons).

Supporting the community during difficult times is also high on the agenda of Oradea’s startups. Following the closing of schools, Flipsnack, one of the most well-known international platforms for creating and publishing digital magazines and books, offered teachers free access for a year for digitizing educational materials and creating interactive PDFs. Typing DNA has also made its API free for supporting online learning.

A growing community of tech startups

Oradea Tech Hub is the first organization in the city that manages an IT hub, including co-working spaces and interaction between freelancers and start-ups. Based in the Oradea Fortress, the hub was established in 2015 and has managed to create a strong community, invested in empowering the public and NGO sector with technical solutions. Oradea Tech Hub also offered its support to the “Online teacher” project, a fast-track program initiated by Digital Nation in the middle of the Covid-19 crisis, designed to train teachers in basic digital skills for online education, with over 25.000 participants. 

The tech hub has recently published its first report, detailing the activity of startups that have developed their own software products, based mostly on local resources. According to the report, the tech startup ecosystem in Oradea currently counts 336 employees and has reached over 11 million users worldwide, with the total of investments attracted amounting to $9 million. 

“The purpose of the Oradea Tech Hub was exactly this: to coagulate and bring together companies, freelancers and local stakeholders to help develop the city towards higher value-added services and products than the well-known outsourcing.”, Alin Mercheș, President of Oradea Tech Hub. 

A vision for the future

The geographical location of Oradea, placed near the border with Hungary and in the middle of the distance between Cluj-Napoca and Timișoara offers Oradea the opportunity to easily sustain cooperation across the region. The areas can be R&D, software development, (a sector which is better represented in larger cities, with a higher density of programmers), as well as medical services and innovation within universities through cross-border cooperation. The local administration has embarked on the journey of smart specialization, envisioning the development of industries such as cosmetics, pharmaceutics, as well as organic agriculture.

Healtech and wellness tech are also set for growth in Oradea, given the city’s geothermal water resources and wellbeing facilities. The presence of robotics and automation companies in the industrial parks of Oradea is also a big strength, possibly spurring new startups in the area of IoT within Industry 4.0. Robots like the ones designed by Braintronix in Oradea are becoming all the more important in this pandemic, with automation needed for sanitizing hospitals and other public spaces.

While the effects of the current crisis put a significant pressure on the economy, Oradea has demonstrated resilience in counteracting these setbacks and continues its course to become one of the most attractive startup hubs of North-West Romania in the coming years. Investors and entrepreneurs benefit from a close cooperation between a highly efficient administration and a dynamic private environment, in a city well connected to the economic heart of Europe and to other competitive cities in the region.

Urban Development Consultant & Editor at Startups&TheCity.